Learning about wines can be tricky enough without complicating it with all the peripherals with decanters, openers, storage options, etc. For a simple tool, wine glasses can be overwhelming for consumers.
We're here to remove the mystique around wine glasses and help you understand them better. As we did with our bottles post, let's start with the anatomy of the typical wine glass, from bottom to top this time.
Anatomy of a Wine Glass
The flared base gives a wine glass stability.
Above the base is the stem. The main purpose of the stem is to give the drinker a place to hold the glass without warming the wine.
The bowl is the most crucial part of a glass. You can have stemless—and thereby, baseless—glasses, but you cannot have a glass without a bowl. Otherwise, you simply have a sad mess. The bowl should be large enough to let you swirl the wine without spilling and it should taper towards the top to concentrate the aromas.
The uppermost part of the bowl forms the rim. Generally speaking, a thinner rim is the mark of a quality glass. A thin smooth rim helps the wine flow effortlessly into the drinker's mouth whereas a thicker, more rounded one can be somewhat distracting.
Wine Glass Categories
Rather than provide a laundry list of all the various glass types, we think it makes more sense to break them into broader categories. Some categories have more types than others, and that's okay. Some glasses are hard to classify, such as the stylized ones that look like birds or the keepsake ones you pick up from special occasions. And that's okay too!
Red Wine Glasses
Red wine glasses are typically the largest with big round bowls and large openings. This wide bowl provides the most surface area and opens up the aromas and increases oxidation in the glass. There are several variations: Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, or just a Standard. But by and large, these types all share the same characteristics of a big bowl and a large opening.
White Wine Glasses
White wine glasses are smaller than reds and the bowl is more u-shaped. While the opening does taper (as all wine glasses should) it is not as pronounced as the reds because the sides of the bowl aren't as wide. Since white wine is served at a cooler temperature, this smaller size is specifically designed to maintain the wine's temperature. The smaller bowl means there is less surface area so the wine stays more insulated against heat transfer. The shape also preserves aromas. Common white wine glass types include Sauvignon Blanc, Montrachet, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Standard.
Dessert Wine Glasses
Dessert wine glasses tend to be smaller because dessert wines usually have higher alcohol content. The narrow mouth reduces evaporation and concentrates aromas. The smaller, narrower bowl is designed to channel the contents slowly down towards the back of the mouth to taste the right amount of flavor. Both Port and Sherry glasses fall into this category. While a Port glass looks more like a miniature Cabernet Sauvignon style, the Sherry glass often has a tulip-shaped profile.
Sparkling Wine Glasses
The sparkling wine glass is the quintessential Champagne flute. Sometimes the flute has a tulip shape, but in either case, this design is to preserve the wine's carbonation. They often have a bead in the bottom to assist the bubbles to form and release upward through the wine. Sometimes you'll see Champagne served in a 1920s-inspired Coupe glass. This glass has a broader, shallower bowl. These are less popular than flutes because the increased surface area leads to the bubbles and aromas dissipating more quickly.
Despite these traditional thoughts on the Champagne flute, more and more winemakers are recommending a white wine glass because you can get better aromas. Aromas easily influence your perception of taste. So try both options and go with your preference.
Some may argue that rosé glasses don't really need their own category. Nevertheless, they're out there and they are the one exception to the rule about a mouth opening being narrower than the bowl (Coupe glasses notwithstanding). There is a flared lip version and a slight taper version. Most people use the flared lip glass for younger, crisp rosés and use the tapered ones for full-bodied and mature rosés.
All-purpose glasses are essentially the catchall for those that don't fit neatly into some other category. This is where stemless glasses reside. Or those playful ones that are shaped like birds or dragon's claws. Also, if you can't distinguish whether a glass is meant for red wine or a white one, then it's likely that this middle-of-the-road model is also an all-purpose glass.
Do Any of Them Affect the Wine's Taste?
This can be a touchy subject. The simplest answer is no. However, what we smell of our wine changes our perceptions. If perception is reality, then glasses can affect the tastes we perceive.
Some glasses lend themselves more towards oxidation (as when you let the wine breathe) and others concentrate aromas. Drinking a sparkling wine like 2013 Blanc de Noirs, Ram's Gate Estate from an old mason jar is a different experience than drinking it from a crystal champagne flute. Or drinking a 2018 Chardonnay, Ram's Gate Estate from a pint glass is different from drinking it from a white wine glass.
When in doubt, have a few all-purpose glasses on hand to provide your guests with an experience that is unmarred from a distracting glass.